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NASA Selects SpaceX for TRACERS Mission

Earth’s Magnetosphere. Credit: NASA

Ibadan, 2 October 2023. – NASA has selected SpaceX and its Falcon 9 rocket to provide the launch service for the agency’s TRACERS (Tandem Reconnection and Cusp Electrodynamics Reconnaissance Satellites) mission. The mission comprises a pair of small satellites that will study space weather and how the Sun’s energy affects Earth’s magnetic environment or magnetosphere.

TRACERS will be an important addition to NASA’s heliophysics fleet. Furthermore, it aims to answer long-standing questions critical to understanding the Sun-Earth system. The spinning satellites will study how solar wind, the continuous stream of ionized particles escaping the Sun and pouring out to space, interacts with the region around Earth dominated by our planet’s magnetic field.

This interaction, or magnetic reconnection, is an intense transfer of energy that can happen when two magnetic fields meet, which could potentially impact operations with crew and sensitive satellites. The University of Iowa is leading the mission with partners at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio and Millennium Space Systems in El Segundo, California.

Speaking on the mission, Prof. Craig Kletzing, space physicist at the University of Iowa in Iowa City and the mission’s principal investigator said, “Magnetic reconnection can happen in lots of places in the magnetopause, but it’s hard to survey such a giant search space. The cusp is one place where we can study the signatures of reconnection that happen all over.”

TRACERS will repeatedly fly through the northern polar cusp, one satellite behind the other, to study where and how often reconnection happens at the outer edges of Earth’s magnetic field. These measurements are critical for understanding and eventually predicting how energy from our Sun transfers into our planet.

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